Last Friday, the fifth defense and foreign minister level ‘two plus two meeting’ was held between the US and India in Delhi, the capital of India. Defense Minister Lloyd Austin and Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken on behalf of the United States and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister Dr. S Jaishankar led the respective delegations. In the meeting, the two countries discussed their respective priorities and geopolitical strategies and mutual cooperation. At the same time, they discussed the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh and the recent political unrest, said Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Koetra. He said this while answering a journalist’s question in a press conference held after the meeting.
India’s foreign secretary said they had ‘clearly’ expressed their views on Bangladesh in the meeting. According to reports published in various media including Samakal, he said – India respects the democratic process of Bangladesh as a close friend and partner. Along with that, India will cooperate with the aspirations and plans of the people of Bangladesh to become a stable, peaceful and progressive country. According to him, ‘Bangladesh’s development and elections are their internal affairs. The people of Bangladesh will decide their future.’
We do not know what the US said in the meeting in view of India’s statement. However, in response to a question about the elections in Bangladesh, Vedanta Patel, the deputy spokesperson of the United States Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country, said that the goal and purpose of the United States is a free and fair election in Bangladesh, so that the will of the people is reflected there. In other words, it can be said that there has been no change in the position of the United States regarding the upcoming elections in Bangladesh. They want the upcoming elections to be fair and participatory.
One thing is clear here, there is a difference between the positions of the United States and India regarding the Bangladesh elections. I and some others have always said that whether it is Congress or BJP government in India, it is better to have an Awami League government in Bangladesh. Now Awami League government is more convenient for India due to various reasons, it was like that before. I still believe that. Many felt that, as the strategic relationship between the United States and India has deepened in recent times, especially in view of China’s growing influence in the region, there has been a consensus on the position of both of them on Bangladesh. But I never found it credible to think so; Although there was no visible evidence in favor of my position until now.
Earlier it was reported that India has also advised the Bangladesh government not to repeat the two disputed elections this time. We have seen the news in the media that the Indian government also wants a fair and free election in this country. But as US officials have consistently insisted for months on making Bangladesh’s elections fair, free and participatory, no one in the Indian government has ever said the same. Yes, we heard a spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs say, they too want a fair and free election in Bangladesh. But first of all, it cannot be proved that India has said that matter as seriously as the United States. Secondly, Bangladesh’s twelfth parliamentary elections must be ‘participatory’ – something India never emphasized.
Even after showing the joint statement given by India-United States after the discussion meeting, some were saying that there is no context of Bangladesh, therefore the two countries’ different positions on Bangladesh elections cannot be proved. My point is that the meeting is mainly about the strategic relations of the two countries, the joint statement will contain that topic. I think, those who expected there to refer to other contexts or Bangladesh issues, those expectations were wrong. However, since the election of Bangladesh has already become part of the strategic interests of the two countries, Bangladesh has an important place in the strategic interests of the United States in South Asia, so the issue should be discussed in a high-level meeting between India and the United States, and it has happened; The Foreign Secretary of India has already made it clear.
Although India’s position on the Bangladesh elections is clear, it is not supposed to change the US position in the same context. Because the United States has made this position clear long ago and they have taken it strongly. It must also be remembered that there is no such thing as two friendly states or two states involved in partnership relations having the same views on each other’s neighbours.
So the bottom line is that India and the US are still maintaining their own view of Bangladesh, especially the upcoming elections in Bangladesh.
I think, even if the India-US position on Bangladesh is contradictory, it will not affect the relationship between the two countries. The friendship between the two countries is long-standing. Furthermore, their relationship has reached its current stage in a special context. China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region has grown significantly over the years, especially in South Asia, where India is the most influential state, China’s growing influence is quite evident. China’s growing influence has raised concerns in India as well as in the United States. As a result, India and the US have elevated their relationship from a common interest to a strategic one. It should also be remembered that China’s recent border conflict with India has also played an important role in this regard. As a result, there is no chance for India and the US to move away from each other at the moment.
Another thing is also important, the depth of Bangladesh-US relations is not less. The US has a strategic interest here. He will realize that interest in his own way. US does not need India or anyone else to mediate here. Therefore, the country’s relationship with Bangladesh is direct. India is also aware of this. As a result, no matter how contradictory India’s position is with the US’s position on the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, the two countries will not engage in any conflict. Maybe there will be some conflicting statements on this from both sides; But I don’t think it will translate into active opposition from India. That is, no matter how strong India’s support to the current government is, India will not stand in the way of the US’s efforts to hold a free, fair and participatory election here.
In this situation, the political unrest that is currently going on in the country around the upcoming elections, instead of repressive methods, initiatives should be taken to bring it to a normal state through legal and peaceful discussions. The sooner the parties concerned realize this, the better it will be for the country.
Md. Tauhid Hossain: Retired diplomat, former foreign secretary